The impact of the decision — which could have implications for how precisely political committees such as President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee have to detail their spending — will rest on how the FEC chooses to apply it, several campaign finance experts said….
The decision Friday involved three staffers from the 2012 presidential campaign of Ron Paul, R-Texas. The Paul staff members — Jesse Benton, John Tate and Demetrios Kesari — were convicted in 2016 of charges connected to $73,000 in payments to an Iowa state senator who, in exchange for the money, switched his Republican presidential primary endorsement from former Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., to Paul shortly before the Iowa caucuses.
The three men made the payments to the state senator, Kent Sorenson, via a third-party video production company. The court said the video production company payment was really a ruse designed to hide the fact that the campaign money was destined for Sorenson, who last year began servingprison time stemming from his bribe acceptance.
Lawyers for Benton, Tate and Kesari argued that the law, and FEC precedents, don’t prohibit a campaign paying a vendor who then pays a subcontractor, even if campaign finance reports only show the name of the original vendor. Prosecutors said it was illegal to hide the purpose of the payments, which were described as “audio/visual expenses,” when they were really made in exchange for Sorenson’s endorsement, and the circuit court’s opinion said that was a factor.